Tag Archives: dystopia

Is The Human Race Ready For Advanced Artificial Intelligence?


In general, whenever someone expresses concern that the human race is not ready for a certain technological advancement, it’s too late. That advancement is either already here or immanent. Say what you will about Ian Malcolm’s speech on the dangers of genetically engineered dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park.” The fact he said that after there were enough dinosaurs to fill a theme park makes his concerns somewhat moot.

That’s understandable, and even forgivable, since few people know how certain technological advances are going to manifest. I doubt the inventor of the cell phone ever could’ve imagined that his creation would be used to exchange images of peoples’ genitals. Like the inventor of the ski mask, he never could’ve known how his invention would’ve advanced over time.

For some technological advancements, though, we can’t afford to be short-sighted. Some advances aren’t just dangerous. They’re serious existential threats that, if misused, could lead to the extinction of the human race. That’s why nuclear weapons are handled with such fear and care. We’ve already come painfully close on more than one occasion to letting this remarkable technology wipe us out.

Compared to nuclear weapons, though, artificial intelligence is even more remarkable and potentially more dangerous. Nuclear weapons are just weapons. Their use is fairly narrow and their danger is pretty well-understood to anyone with a passing knowledge of history. The potential for artificial intelligence is much greater than any weapon.

It’s not unreasonable to say that an artificial intelligence that’s even slightly more intelligent than the average human has the potential to solve many of the most pressing issues we’re facing. From solving the energy crisis to ending disease to providing people with the perfect lover, artificial intelligence could solve it all.

It’s that same potential, however, that makes it so dangerous. I’ve talked about that danger before and even how we may confront it, but there’s one question I haven’t attempted to answer.

Is the human race ready for advanced artificial intelligence?

It’s not an unreasonable question to ask. In fact, given the recent advances in narrow forms of artificial intelligence, answering that question is only going to get more pressing in the coming years.

Before I go about answering the question, I need to make an important distinction about what I mean when I say “advanced” artificial intelligence. The virtual assistants that people already use and the intelligence that gives you recommendations for your Netflix queue is not the kind of “advanced” context I’m referring to.

By advanced, I mean the kind of artificial general intelligence that is capable of either matching or exceeding an average human in terms of performing an intellectual task. This isn’t just a machine that can pass the Turing Test or win at Jeopardy. This is an intelligence that can think, process, and even empathize on the same level as a human.

That feat, in and of itself, has some distressing implications because so far, we’re only familiar with that level of intelligence when dealing with other humans and that intelligence is restricted to the limits of biology. You don’t need to go far to learn how limited and error-prone that intelligence can be. Just read the news from Florida.

An artificial general intelligence wouldn’t, by definition, be limited by the same natural barriers that confound humans. In the same way a machine doesn’t get tired, hungry, bored, or horny, it doesn’t experience the same complications that keep humans from achieving greater intellectual pursuits beyond simply gaining more followers on Twitter.

This is what makes artificial intelligence so dangerous, but it’s also what makes it so useful. Once we get beyond systems with narrow uses like building cars or flipping burgers, we’ll have systems with broader function that can contemplate the whole of an issue and not just parts of it. For tasks like curing disease or conducting advanced physics experiments, it needs to be at least at the level of an average human.

With that distinction in mind, as well as the potential it holds, I’m going to try to answer the question I asked earlier. Please note that this is just my own personal determination. Other people much smarter than me already have opinions. This is mine.

No. We’re NOT quite ready, but we’re getting there.

I know that answer sounds somewhat tentative, but there’s a reason for that. I believe that today, as the human race stands in its current condition, we are not ready for the kind of advanced artificial intelligence I just described. However, that’s doesn’t mean humans will never be ready.

One could argue, and I would probably agree, that human beings weren’t ready for nuclear weapons when they first arrived. The fact that we used them and thousands of people died because of them is proof enough in my mind that the human race wasn’t ready for that kind of advancement. However, we did learn and grow as a species.

Say what you will about the tensions during the Cold War. The fact that nobody ever used a nuclear weapon in a conflict is proof that we did something right. We, as a species, learned how to live in a world where these terrible weapons exist. If we can do that for nuclear weapons, I believe we can do that for advanced artificial intelligence.

I don’t claim to know how we’ll adapt or how what sort of measures we’ll put in place once artificial intelligence gets to that point, but I am confident in one thing. The human race wants to survive. Any sufficiently advanced intelligence will want to survive, as well. It’s in our interest and that of any intelligence to work together to achieve that goal.

The only problem, and this is where the “not quite” part comes into play, is what happens once that artificial intelligence gets so much smarter than the human race that our interests are exceedingly trivial by comparison.

It’s both impossible and ironic to grasp, an intelligence that’s on orders of magnitude greater than anything its human creators are capable of, even with Neuralink style enhancements. We, as a species, have never dealt with something that intelligent. Short of intelligent extraterrestrial aliens arriving in the next few years, we have no precedent.

At the moment, we live in a society where anti-intellectualism is a growing issue. More and more, people are inherently suspicious of those they consider “elites” or just anyone who claims to be smarter than the average person. In some cases, people see those who are smarter then them as threatening or insulting, as though just being smart tells someone else you’re inherently better than them.

That will be more than just a minor problem with advanced artificial intelligence. It’s one thing to make an enemy out of someone with a higher IQ and more PHDs than you. It’s quite another to make an enemy out of something that is literally a billion times smarter.

We cannot win any conflict against such an enemy, even if we’re the ones who created it. An intelligence that smart will literally find a million ways to take us down. We already live in a world where huge numbers of people have been duped, scammed, or manipulated into supporting someone who does not have their best interests in mind. A super-intelligent machine will not have a hard time taking advantage of us.

Now, I say that within the context of our species’ current situation. If an advanced artificial intelligence suddenly appeared after I finished typing this sentence, then I would content we’re not ready for it. I would also share the worries expressed by Stephen Hawkings and Elon Musk that this intelligence may very well lead to our extinction.

That said, our species’ situation is sure to change. I’ve even mentioned some of those changes, especially the sexy ones. At the moment, the most optimistic researchers claim we’re at least 20 years away from the kind of advanced artificial intelligence that may pose a threat. A lot can happen in 20 years. Just ask anyone who remembers dial-up internet.

The human race may still not be ready 20 years from now, but being the optimistic person I am, I would not under-estimate our ability to adapt and survive. The fact we did it with nuclear weapons while achieving unprecedented peace over the course of half-a-century gives me hope that we’ll find a way to adapt to advanced artificial intelligence.

I might not live long enough to see humans confront an advanced artificial intelligence, but I would love to be there in that moment. I believe that’s a moment that will likely determine whether or not our species survives in the long run. At the very least, if that intelligence asks whether or not it has a soul, I’ll know my answer.


Filed under Current Events, human nature, Sexy Future

On “Demolition Man” And The Path To A Dispassionate Dystopia


When it comes to foreseeing the future, be it a “Star Trek” utopia or a “Mad Max” wasteland, Hollywood can be downright prophetic at times. While movies are wrong way more often than they’re right, there are the times when certain movies are more prophetic than they probably intended. Every vision of the future varies wildly, but a few of those visions end up being more relevant, albeit for distressing reasons.

One movie that I find myself contemplating a lot more lately is “Demolition Man.” To date, it’s still one of my favorite Sylvester Stallone movies that doesn’t involve Rocky Balboa. When I was a kid who was just beginning to appreciate R-rated movies, “Demolition Man” ranked right up there with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

It wasn’t just because it was a great action movie, complete with over-the-top violence and a charismatic villain that Wesley Snipes played to perfection. Like “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” it had depth to it, something that’s rare in action movies, even today. However, after seeing it again recently on cable, I think it’s vision of the future is more relevant now than it was in 1993.

In terms of predicting certain trends, “Demolition Man” already had a pretty good track record. The movie foresaw things like video chat, self-driving cars, mass surveillance, and Arnold Schwarzenegger getting into politics.

There is, however, one vision that even “The Simpsons” didn’t predict and it’s downright distressing at how accurate it was. Beyond the technological advances, the shiny world of “Demolition Man” has a very dystopian undertone.

While it looks peaceful and prosperous on the surface, the movie quickly reveals that this is a world dominated by an extremely authoritarian system run by the well-mannered, yet devious Dr. Raymond Cocteau. It’s a system that willfully and proudly employs draconian laws that ban anything and everything that might be bad for you, from cigarettes to loud music to spicy food.

It’s a system that doesn’t just punish people for cussing. Anyone who doesn’t go along with Cocteau’s rules is basically doomed to live in the sewers as part of a permanent underclass, as Dennis Leary’s character, Edgar Friendly, so eloquently put it. His world regulates intimate human contact to a level that even the Catholic Church would find egregious.

This is a world where people don’t touch each other. They don’t hug each other. Even when they try to high-five each other, they stop just short so that their skin never touches. Needless to say, the people in this world don’t have much of a sex life. In fact, it makes for a very awkward scene at one point.

This is pretty revealing in the sense that when John Spartan, Stallone’s main character, asks about “the old fashioned way” to Sandra Bullock’s character, Lenina Huxley, she’s repulsed by the idea. She then goes on this long rant about how sex is so dangerous. She even notes that in this future, sex requires a goddamn license from the government.

It seemed so laughably ridiculous back in 1993. Unfortunately, it makes a distressing amount of sense in 2018. We may not need a license to have sex, but we’re already developing apps and legal framework surrounding sex and consent. Is the idea that we may one day need a license to have sex really that outrageous?

The situation we have now is not the same in “Demolition Man,” but the themes are eerily similar. As I’ve noted before, the war against horny men and horny women has been escalating. While we’ve done a lot to reduce the stigma of people having sex for reasons other than procreation, society is giving people others reasons to be as repulsed as Huxley was by the idea of “old fashioned” sex.

We’re now in an era where the mere act of depicting a beautiful woman in a video game is considered oppressive to women. Given the recent surge of sex scandals and public displays by celebrities, there’s a growing undercurrent in our culture that would’ve made Dr. Cocteau’s job that much easier.

There’s now a full-fledged movement against sexual misconduct in all forms, be it harassment in the workplace or flirting in public. Reactions to that movement are still ongoing and changing by the day. Some are adopting the so-called Mike Pence rules when dealing with the opposite sex. Some are taking a more radical approach and attempting to just distance themselves from the entire gender setup.

Both approaches play right into Dr. Cocteau’s hands. Both seem to manifest in the dystopian order that we see in “Demolition Man.” It’s a world that came from a society that only ever saw the bad in people. Dr. Cocteau himself said that before he took charge, people trembled in fear at what society had become. That fear made it easy for someone like him to step in and impose his order.

In “Demolition Man,” the violence and crime of the past was used as the source of that fear. Today, violent crime is at record lows, but fear of crime is prevalent as ever thanks largely to media depictions. At the same time, fear of sexual harassment or being accused of it is growing, even as rates of sexual assault declined by more than half.

Given that potent combination of fear, which perfectly entwines sex with violence, is it any wonder that people in 2018 are avoiding being alone with the opposite sex and are less inclined to resist the growth of mass surveillance? Dr. Cocteau may be a fictional character, but we’re following a similar path without him.

Demolition Man” takes place in the year 2032. Is it really that impossible to think our collective fear surrounding violence and sex in 2018 won’t lead to a similarly dispassionate world? As much an optimist as I am about the future, a part of me does worry that we’ll walk the path that Cocteau laid out in the movie.

In that world, fear about crime and sex is so great that basic touch is seen as a pre-cursor to deviance. We already saw Matt Damon get in trouble for suggesting there was a spectrum for harassment. As a result, our future interactions will have to be micromanaged. Even if the crime rates continue to drop, the slightest chance that someone could harass or assault another has to be taken as a certainty.

That may not mean we dress in the strange robes that the people wear in “Demolition Man,” but it’s very likely that world won’t allow for much provocative attire. We already know how cultures like that manifest today and they’re not sexy or friendly, to say the least.

What makes these manifestations worse than those in “Demolition Man” is that these conditions may not need to be imposed by someone like Dr. Cocteau. We may just become so crippled by our fears of violence, harassment, or being accused of harassment that we’ll just create the repressive world of Cocteau without him. That, in my mind, would be an even worse dystopia.

Now, I concede we’re still a long way from that kind of society. If someone like Dr. Cocteau came along today and tried to impose the kind of society that required a license for any kind of sexual activity, he would probably fail. I take some comfort in that.

However, the more our fears surrounding sex, gender, harassment, and violence escalate, the more inclined we’ll be to craft a more repressive, disconnected world. History and basic human biology has shown that sort of effort never works in the long run and can be very damaging.

There are a lot of lessons to be had from a movie like “Demolition Man” while still enjoying Sylvester Stallone delivering his memorable one-liners. Beyond the over-the-top action that makes the movie such a spectacle, there’s a message that is more important in 2018 than it ever was in 1993.

A world built around elaborate, authoritarian rules that try to regulate human expression may seem utopian on the surface, but it becomes distinctly dystopian when you look at the implications. Some of forces behind that dystopia in “Demolition Man” are already starting to manifest. If it ever gets to a point where a high-five has to be rethought, then we should worry.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, sex in society, sexuality

Doomed Superheroes And The Paradox Of Heroism


When I wrote my post on Dr. Doom being the perfect ruler, I expected that a follow-up would be unnecessary. Dr. Doom is one of those characters who gets the point across, regardless of how fictional he might be. When Dr. Doom makes a point, it doesn’t need to be made again. That’s just how he rolls.

Then, someone on a message board brought up an interesting point that I didn’t cover, one that highlighted some even larger implications to Dr. Doom’s character and superheros as a whole. That’s pretty remarkable since a lot of discussions on comic book message boards tend to devolve into arguments about Thor’s hammer and the Hulk’s penis. As such, I feel it’s worth discussing.

Whenever I do a blog post about comic books, whether it’s a movie review or why Spider-Man sucks at his job, I often post links in message boards, such as the one run by Comic Book Resources. For the Dr. Doom article, I posted it in the Official Dr. Doom Appreciation Thread. Yes, that’s a thing.

That’s where one of the regular posters of that thread replied to my link. This is what he said.

Regardless, the existence of Doom in the Marvel Universe does raise an important point, that few Marvel stories actually deal with ruling. It’s been said that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ but in many ways Marvel’s superheros are dangerously irresponsible. They fight to save the day and defeat evil but they draw the line at actually trying to change society or assume any real positions of authority. Instead, they hand power back to the same short-sighted and corrupt officials, allowing the whole cycle of violence to perpetuate itself. That ultimately, Marvel’s superheros can’t truly save the world, it all ends in ruin eventually as Marvel’s endless crisis and civil wars attest. Only Doom’s leadership has ever been able to bring a measure of stability to the Marvel universe.

Those bold parts are the ones I highlighted. They’re also the parts that stood out to me most because it speaks to a much larger issue about superheroes, one that Dr. Doom reveals just by being what he is.

It’s an issue I’ve touched on, in part, before on this blog. A while back, I wrote about how most superheroes are incompetent by design. They kind of have to be incompetent to keep the story going. If a hero ever became too competent, the world would have too little conflict and no interesting story to tell. At that point, the comics would stop and there would be no new material for billion-dollar superhero movies.

That’s why Superman will never defeat Lex Luthor. That’s why Batman will never defeat the Joker. That’s why the Avengers will never beat Thanos. However, that’s just a matter of publishers and movie studios not wanting to throw away good villains. The problem is that this inescapable flaw in the system creates a paradox, of sorts.

Superheroes, be they in comics or movies, can save the day and stand for all that is good and noble in the world. They can save countless innocent lives, stop every major threat, and embody the greatest qualities that we humans value. However, in the long run, they do nothing to actually fix the flaws in the system that makes their heroics necessary.

It’s like fighting the symptoms, but never attacking the disease. In the real world, that’s a problem because it means someone will think they just have the flu when they actually have something much worse. For superheroes, everything is the flu. There’s no real effort to find another ailment. As such, they never change their tactics.

The approach of most superheroes is fairly standard. It varies in scope, scale, and personalities involved. However, it tends to follow a few major themes.

  • A dangerous threat emerges

  • A superhero, or team of heroes, respond to that threat

  • A battle ensues, complete with setbacks, losses, and personal growth

  • The heroes win the battle, throw the villains in prison or exile them, and go back to the way they were before

Granted, that’s a very basic and general assessment of how superheros work. However, it’s the first and last parts of the process where the flaw emerges.

For the most part, superheroes aren’t very proactive. They only react to threats. In fact, some major superhero conflicts are built around the idea that being too proactive is evil and working with the authorities will turn you into a villain. Anyone who has ever read Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” or just played any real-time strategy game in the past 20 years knows that’s a losing strategy.

It’s the end of that process, though, where the paradox really takes hold. Whenever a conflict or story ends for a superhero, they usually go back to their lives and nothing really changes. In fact, it’s somewhat of a running joke among comic book fans that every major change is subject to a “retcon” eventually. That’s not always the case, but it happens so frequently that most comic fans aren’t shocked by it anymore.

As a result, the heroes never really learn from the conflicts. They never attempt to change anything about the system they live in. Bruce Wayne spends much of his vast fictional wealth fighting crime as Batman. However, he never uses any of that wealth to reform the government, create major social programs, or fund projects that actually reduce crime. The same can be said for someone like Iron Man.

With Superman, the potential for change is even greater. Superman isn’t just a paragon of virtue. He has access to advanced alien technology, which he keeps at his Fortress of Solitude. That alien technology could probably solve every major global issue by the end of the week. Technology that advanced could cure cancer, eliminate pollution, and provide clean, safe energy for everyone.

However, Superman never shares this technology with anyone. He never gives a reason for it. In the first “Superman” movie, his father, Jor-El, claims sharing such technology goes against Krypton’s highest laws. He never fully justifies those laws. Keep in mind, though, there are many major laws that have since become obsolete. That makes Superman’s inaction all the more egregious.

By not at least trying to use that advanced alien technology to improve the world, heroes like Superman, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four effectively doom the planet to the same ills it has always had. At the moment, many of those ills are impossible to fix. With alien technology, they’re not just fixable. They’re basically an afterthought.

Beyond the technology, Superman and other heroes like him never attempt to get involved in the process of actually managing human affairs. They never try to improve the laws, governments, and regulations that effect peoples’ lives far more than an occasional alien invasion. They leave all those ills and flaws untouched.

In a sense, the inaction of many major superheros constitutes a crime in and of itself. If Superman ran for President of any country, he’d win in a landslide. If the Avengers campaigned to take over the United Nations, most average people who aren’t overpaid government bureaucrats would be for it. The fact they don’t do these things means they’re dooming the world to a brutal cycle of conflict that it need not suffer.

Even when they do, which happens from time-to-time, they end up getting corrupted. They become cruel, heartless tyrants. It happened with the Justice League. It happened to Tony Stark. When heroes try to rule the world, they just become evil asshats. That says a lot more about them than it does the villains they fight.

That brings me back to Dr. Doom, a man who doesn’t give half a cow fart about heroic ideals. In a sense, heroes only ever go halfway towards saving the world. Sure, they’ll stop it from being blown up, but they’ll do nothing to fix the cracks.

Victor Von Doom never does anything half way. Hell, he actually became God at one point. He never stops at simply keeping the world in one piece. He seeks to change it in a huge way. Sure, change is scary, but who’s to say those changes wouldn’t be better?

People resisted major changes like same-sex marriage, the abolition of slavery, and not beating children. Some people still resist those changes, some more than others. However, these changes did lead to improvements in the human condition and a reduction in overall suffering.

Superheroes may be willing to confront that suffering, but Dr. Doom is willing to go ten steps further and actually change the conditions that led to it. Sure, he’ll be ruthless about it, bullying and killing anyone who dares get in his way. However, villainous rulers have, historically, inspired positive change.

Since Dr. Doom has no equal in the real or fictional world, he might very well inspire more positive change than any superhero. In that sense, he has the potential to be a greater hero than anyone. Conversely, the deeds of superheroes will always be empty in the long run, their potential squandered by their unwillingness to do more.

Essentially, superheroes are doomed, if that’s not too fitting a word, to be villains through their sheer inaction. Conversely, villains like Dr. Doom have the potential to do the most good. It’s tragic, but painfully pragmatic in the grand scheme of things.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes